Hope Wiseman, 26, is the youngest black dispensary owner in the country—but she has her fingers crossed that won’t be the case for long.

Wiseman’s dispensary, Mary & Main, in Prince George’s County, Md., opened its doors to medical patients in September. At the time, “I had never thought about myself being the youngest of anything,” she says. “I just was doing it because I believed in it.” But, she adds, “At the same time, I want to be able to inspire others. I feel like without being able to do that, the platform isn’t that cool anymore.”

Mary & Main, according to Wiseman, is also one of the country’s first 100-percent African American-owned dispensaries. Wiseman owns the 2,000-square-foot dispensary with her mother, Octavia Simkins-Wiseman, and Larry Bryant, both of whom are dentists.

But not everyone understood Mary & Main—or Wiseman’s dedication to it—in the years before it opened. “When I first embarked on this journey, a lot of my friends couldn’t see the larger vision. I’m sure they thought it was a little crazy of me and not very practical,” Wiseman says. “But, that’s usually where greatness comes from. So, I used the title [as a dispensary owner] … to inspire other people to find their path and follow their dreams no matter how crazy they are.”

“Part of the reason why I really believe in this industry is because I believe it’s an opportunity for minorities and African Americans, specifically, to build wealth and build a legacy.” Hope Wiseman, owner, Mary & Main

Named for Growth

The idea for Mary & Main harkens back to 2014 when Wiseman was amidst a career change. Previously, Wiseman had been working in finance and economics, and she had been closely watching the emerging cannabis trend across the country.

Though she was living in Atlanta at the time, “I started to look at my home state of Maryland,” she says. “I realized that they were about to pass regulation, so I began doing research. During that, I realized I was perfectly suited for this industry for so many other reasons, besides just the fact that it was a great business opportunity.”

“Part of the reason why I really believe in this industry is because I believe it’s an opportunity for minorities and African Americans, specifically, to build wealth and build a legacy,” she explains.

In applying for its license—which Mary & Main obtained in 2016—Wiseman admits she faced many challenges. “We did not go out and quickly get a large investor, we did not go out and partner with a large company,” Wiseman describes. “We had to completely bootstrap the process between the three owners.”

Wiseman also starred on E! reality show “WAGS Atlanta” (based on E!’s Wives and Girlfriends of Sports Stars series) in 2018, but Wiseman says the show “didn’t give me much of a platform” as she worked to launch Mary & Main. “The show was canceled, but even when it was airing, the producers did not show anything about my business,” she says. “It has had no effect, good or bad.”

Instead, Wiseman and the other owners experienced growing pains. “It was very difficult in that we were very green when it first started four years ago,” she says. “We didn’t know too much about the industry. We had no idea what best practices were in the industry. We had no idea the right way to go, so we made a lot of mistakes on the way.”

One mistake Wiseman says they made was “underestimating the level of expertise you would need in order to successfully operate.” So, she and her co-owners conducted research, attended as many industry events as possible and “aligned ourselves with other aspiring firms to pool our knowledge,” to gain expertise, she says. Wiseman is glad she made those mistakes because “now I can help other people following in my footsteps,” she says.

Inside Mary & Main. Sample packaging is displayed throughout the dispensary, but cannabis products are kept behind the counter.

The Importance of Education

Having two dentists as co-owners has been a huge help in growing Mary & Main. (Simkins-Wiseman has 25 years as a practitioner; Bryant is a successful oral surgeon.) As Wiseman explains, the insight and experience they bring to the business is meaningful.

“Their health care backgrounds provide the company with a medicinal approach that is often missing in cannabis companies,” Wiseman says. “We are a medical facility, and many of our patients are fighting serious diseases and ailments. They need to be treated with care and compassion. Both my mother and Dr. Bryant have been treating patients with this same level of excellent service for [more than] 25 years.” 

Simkins-Wiseman and Bryant’s medical experience also provides a basis for the dispensary’s educational aspect, Wiseman says.

“For us, education is key,” she says. In fact, that’s the focus of all its “experience agents,” which is what Mary & Main calls its budtenders. “Our experience agents make sure that our patients are educated on the history of cannabis and, also, the many uses of cannabis—how to use it truly medicinally, how to dose, the different methods of consumption,” Wiseman says. To make sure all patients leave knowing more about cannabis, Mary & Main offers educational brochures to each patient, and posters hang on the dispensary walls offering cannabis facts and information. Mary & Main also offers free classes to patients. Wiseman says the classes range from the history of cannabis to a discussion about vaping versus smoking, learning about terpenes and cannabinoids, and the pharmacology of cannabis, to name a few.

“I feel like a lot of dispensaries are just more … focused on getting you whatever you ask for, and we’re more … focused on educating on plants so you understand what you’re using and why you’re using it,” Wiseman says. For example, she explains, “most people come in and ask for the highest THC flower we carry—completely ignoring the ailments they may be experiencing.” At Mary & Main, team members explain “how other strains that may not be the highest in THC could be a better choice” for those patients, Wiseman says.

“I had never thought about myself being the youngest of anything. I just was doing it because I believed in it.” Hope Wiseman, owner, Mary & Main

Welcome Home

Walk into Mary & Main’s front door, and you’re greeted by a reception area—and an experience agent. Behind them, you’ll spot a mural of the dispensary’s name, written many times over in different sizes and fonts. Gray floors and wood-colored walls create a welcoming atmosphere.

The space “gives you a very warm and inviting feeling, almost homey, but somewhat contemporary at the same time,” Wiseman describes, adding that decorative, non-cannabis plants are everywhere. “Then, you would talk to an experience agent about what you’re looking for, what cannabinoid and terpene profile you’re looking for, and then they would recommend the best product—and also methods of consumption,” she says.

Sample packaging is placed throughout the store in display cases, but product options—flowers, pre-rolls, oils, tinctures, topicals, wax, live resin, concentrates, budder and more—must be viewed behind the counter. The company Prime Extracts, which produces cartridges, wax, shatter and other concentrates, is the store’s most popular brand, Wiseman reveals.

The store held a soft opening from Sept. 2 through Sept. 28, and welcomed nearly 300 patients, Wiseman says. On its grand opening Sept. 29, 100 patients visited the store. Looking back, Wiseman says she was surprised by how many older patients came for help. “I was not expecting such a large number, but [I] am excited that baby boomers are interested in this alternative form of medicine,” she says.

Those numbers also assuaged another worry Wiseman had before the store opened: that no one would show. “I think it’s a common feeling of any new business owner: Will I have customers?” she says. “But if you build it, [I think] they will come.”

“Since we decided to get into the industry, I’ve met countless patients that have explained how cannabis has completely changed the quality of life for the better,” says Wiseman. “It just makes me so happy every day to give back to my community, not only from a social justice side of the table, but actually from the medicinal side and really help patients genuinely receive better health care.”

Jillian Kramer is a Cleveland, Ohio-based freelance writer.